Amas & Oras

Big trouble in little giant desert china.
A Zephyr-Strelok Collaboration

The church’s doors are large and beautifully carved with sun-rays. They do not open when they are pushed upon. The garden is sad, and dry. Sheila shoulder checks the door when Hayden is unable to open it. She slams her shoulder into it once, it barely shudders, she hits it again, it creaks. Eric walks away to find a window. Zephyr uses her magic to levitate the wooden beam barring the door. On her third attempt Sheila crashes through the (now) unbarred doors and falls promptly upon her face. Hayden does his “best” not to laugh. Strelok waits outside with the birds, and does not attempt to hide his amusement at Sheila’s tumble.

Pews are stacked against a wall. The walls have been bleached in places from light, it is beautiful in a macabre sort of way. There is the sound of glass breaking and mild swearing.

“The doors are open you know” Sheila calls, now inside
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Aeric replies from outside

Hayden sets off looking for loot. He finds nothing at first on the first floor. He then sees an outline of something on the floor; it appears to be a rug, he attempts to blow the dust off and is rewarded with a cloud and hefty coating of dust, he rolls it aside and it reveals a trap door, opening into blackness below.

Sheila picks herself up, and her paladin senses tingle. She sees several beautiful marble carvings of various scenes of Pelor. She looks on in awe and is surprised that she has never heard of this place. After coming back to her senses she follows Hayden to the store room with the trap door. Zephyr also follows Hayden, noting the impressive artwork with a passive scientist’s glance.

Sheila and Zephyr find Hayden looking down into the blackness beneath the trap door. Zephyr creates a light. It illuminates a dirt floor about 8 to 10 feet below. Hayden looks for a secure place to tie a rope in order to descend below. Unable to find one, Sheila offers to lower him down. Zephyr and Hayden successfully climb down.

Below is a large room with 3 doors, 2 to the north, one to the east. The trap door is in the southern west most corner. Cabinetry, barrels, work benches and other such things line the walls of the room. The room is about 80×60, rectangular and does not follow the floor plan of the church. There are tools in one corner. Hayden finds a crowbar and discovers a very old rancid barrel of butter, disgusted he opens another, finding pickled apples and peppers, the apples are delightful. He starts to open the cabinets, finding flasks of oils, and other various tools, lamp oil, cleaning oil rags for weaponry. These seem to be have been used by the paladins for repairing and maintaining their armor and weapons. Hayden also finds the remains of a forge.

Calling up the vent for the forge “Hello?” Hayden hears a reply Aeric and Polena answer from above, it seems to lead to an office in the floor above. Hayden picks the Eastern door and finds coal, wood, and other such items, it appears to be a fire-room? There is also gunpowder which is odd…

Aeric and Polena find Sheila, and report they have found nothing on the first floor. Aeric informed Sheila that he wishes to explore the upper floors, and Polena follows, not wishing to enter the darkness below.

Hayden attempts to unlock another one of the other doors. He notices a magic trap with an earthquake effect placed upon the lock. It is stressful, but he is able to disengage the lock without setting off the trap. It opens into a long, straight corridor with no end in sight. The walls are dirt, crude, and supported with wooden beams. The floor is crudely finished with stones. Zephyr and Hayden travel about 50 yards before coming to stairs that lead downwards.

Seeing the light dissapear Sheila calls down “Find anything interesting?”
Hayden “A really long corridor, dor, dor, dor” There is no actual echo.

Sheila looks for a ladder or other means to lower herself down. Instead realizes she can use the pews to get down into the room. She drags one over to the trap door and pushes it in. It is just long enough to allow her to lower herself down. She secures it with rope just in case, and climbs down.

Strelok enters with the birds and begins setting up camp, and checking the defensive capabilities of the churches main room.

Below, Sheila, Hayden, and Zephyr follow the stairs downwards into the darkness. They end in another door, it is crude but solid. Sheila opens the door and is assaulted by the smell of earth and decay. It opens upon another hallway that extends 15 feet before splitting into a T going to the left and right. Hayden suspects this may be a tomb. They go left. Zephyr lights a torch and hands it to Hayden. The follow the hallway into and come upon a collapsed room. following the hallway they find another room filled with alcoves in which lay corpses, and treasure. Exiting this room and following the hallway they come upon another locked door. Hayden fixes this minor problem. It is contains 3 piles of corpse balls. One of the walls has collapsed and is filled with blackness. It seems that this may have been the last stand of some poor souls. The bodies of cattle are mixed in amoungst the human corpses, and various other food stores indicate that the bodies now balled up in bug vomit may have been trying to hold out here, waiting in vain for help that would come far, far to late to save them. After traveling for at least 3 hours thus far the party considers returning after coming to another fork. They take another left and come upon an even larger room filled with a MASSIVE corpse ball/pile.

Above Strelok, Aeric, and Polena put finishing the touches on placing defensive measures on the main church hall.

Below Hayden breaks into the skill on the ball, seeking potentially shiny things. The hard, sticky, tacky shell opens up into an old pudding like substance. Sheila attempts to purify the bodies with fire, severing the heads. The goo sloughs away and melts.

Upstairs the birds are becoming restless…

Below Hayden (who is bored) is playing/looting the corpses, making light with the situation, and generally pissing off Sheila who is attempting to give peace to the dead. During this process he finds more treasures. A falcion with a strange pommel ornament simillar to the symbol of the item buried in Hayden’s hand/ the bodies found in the forest. Hayden’s hand tingles… Hayden feels uncomfortable with the sword and asks someone else to pick up the sword. Zypher examines the sword and it is indeed magical, strong enchantment that is similar to the item in Hayden’s hand. While she does not recognize the origins, she is pretty sure this is going to be another bonded item. There is a much stronger concentration of magic in the pommel than the blade. Hayden uses mage hand to extract the sword and places it in his bag. After SEVERAL hours of exploring, Hayden, Sheila, and Zypher decide to head back to camp.

After returning to camp, Hayden Mage Hand tosses the sword at Strelok. “Here, catch!” Strelok lets it drop at his feet. “How stupid do you think I am?” Strelok asks.
Hayden demonstrated that the sword was similar to the item in his hand.
Intrigued, Strelock voluntarily picks up the sword. It is sentient, he speaks with it, much to the disturbance of the party. After a brief conversation he discovers the item in Hayden’s hand is indeed very similar to the sword, one seems to be for defense, and one for offense. Strelok uses the sword to extract the item from Hayden and bond it to himself.

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MUTHERFUKKIN SAND KRAKEN (which does not appear during this session...) and Wild Bread Maker Attacks.
I don't even remember where that title came from any more.

So we are in the desert. Dry, dusty soil. There are dried-up lake beds. There are ancient stumps. This area was clearly once fertile. There are some walls crumbled nearly to dust, some long-dead flower beds, etc. Currently we are on a hill with several ruins, including the remains of a cemetery. The hill is tall but with a gentle slope; it obscures the path ahead.

Aeric is moody today, which is not all that unusual. Polena is studying. Hayden is still drunk. We finish packing up and eating breakfast.

Timeline: 5-6 days since left the wall, 4 days in desert.

We resume trudging. Strelok and Aeric compete over taking point, as per usual. Zephyr reads as she walks. Polena is quiet. All in all, it is very much like the past few mornings have been. Zephyr suddenly stumbles over a rock. She glares at it accusingly. It is very hot, and Hayden accepts an Endure Elements from Sheila; Strelok requests it only for his bird. Aeric calls from up ahead that he sees something. We catch up and see the forest. We now can make out trees within the haze. The haze itself shows swirls of pink and green. Flying creatures are also visible, and the life force of the forest as a whole is palpable. We also see the city we are headed towards. It is large, and some of the outer walls remain. We will reach the city by noon tomorrow at our usual pace.

Strelok waves over Polena and Zephyr, and offers them his bird to ride. Zephyr agrees only after being told she can read on the bird. Polena is still afraid of the bird. Strelok says that Zephyr and Polena are slowing down the group and he wants to get out of the dessert (Zephyr is a bit insulted, but takes the offered ride since she’ll be able to read much better). Polena is still skeptical, but Strelok promises she will be okay. He coaxes her on. He then tells Hayden to pick up the pace. Hayden somewhat drunkenly says to simply point him in the right direction. We begin to travel at a brisk pace.

There is a quorking sound, and Aeric cries out. He is at the back of the party, and when we turn to look, he’s been thrown from his bird; the bird’s ankle is swollen, and Aeric is unconscious with a large gash on his forehead. Hayden suggests stripping the body and moving along. As Sheila prepares to heal him, Hayden suddenly wants to check what Aeric is carrying. Sheila shoos him out of the way so she can heal. Strelok: “Really?” Hayden says he doesn’t trust Aeric and wants to search him. Strelok says no, don’t touch him… but then turns to Sheila and asks her to take a look, as he also doesn’t trust Aeric. Sheila says she needs to heal him; Strelok suggests a “very thorough” healing. He cites Aeric’s suspicious moments and strange personality displays, arguing that it is a smart precaution in our situation. Sheila reluctantly agrees that there is some logic in this. Strelok asks Polena to heal the axe-beak.

Sheila stabilizes Aeric; his pulse is no longer weak, and is now steady. Strelok calms the bird and holds the reins so Polena can heal it; it starts puffing up defensively, and Strelok offers a large chunk of meat to placate it. Polena requires a lot more coaxing. Strelok says that if the bird hurts her, he will kill it… Polena protests that she does not want that, and reluctantly approaches. She heals the foot, and backs up rather quickly. She goes to see if Sheila needs help.

Sheila tries to make Aeric comfortable (as much as possible on the rocky ground). As she positions him and clears the ground, she does a brief check through pockets. His armor is light and covers only the most vital areas; he is currently wearing only a few pieces, given the heat. He still has his gambison on, however. She finds nothing of interest, and continues healing. He had regained color after the initial healing, but now is starting to sweat and is becoming pale again; Sheila uses Lay On Hands to remove fever. Sheila indicates that they can wake him up now, so Hayden smacks him. Aeric groans. Hayden smacks him again. Aeric stirs and gives Hayden a “WTF, dude?” look. He requests we not move at quite so fast a pace, at least until we are off the hill. Strelok tells him to be more careful. Aeric seems miffed.

Polena does not want to get back on Strelok’s bird, and takes off. Strelok takes her place on the bird.

We reach the bottom of the hill safely. Strelok offer’s Hayden his seat on the bird; Hayden scoffs a bit, but then accepts. The bird fluffs up a bit as Hayden approaches, but decides it’s not worth it’s time. We pick up the pace again.

When the sun begins to set, we are much closer to the city. We could reach it tonight, but we’d have to travel after dark, and we decide to camp instead. Strelok heads straight to bed. Polena and Aeric both seem “butthurt”. Hayden and Polena take first watch, followed by Zephyr and Aeric, and Sheila and Strelok. The watches are uneventful, although the flying reptiles are seen taking off from the city around midnight. They head north. We do not see them return at any point that night. Zephyr has previously noted that they do not always return to the city the same night.

We rise with the sun, eager to get to the city at last. We make quick time with morning preparations and set out. Closer now, we can see that the haze is not limited to the forest. There are particles visible within it. Most of us smell a sharp floral scent, as if emitted from plants. The particles may in fact be spores. The smell is sour but with rotten undertones. As we move onward, the haze— and smell— seems to settle around us. While unpleasant, it seems harmless. Our visibility is limited to about 200 feet. A few hours pass; noon arrives with no change in the atmospheric conditions. We begin to see shadows through the haze. One turns out to be a curved piece of wood, shaped by someone… Hayden thinks it resembles the hull of a ship. We see more and more of them, finally coming across a field full of them, lined up. It seems almost like a graveyard.

From the maps Zephyr studied before leaving the wall, she recalls seeing a crescent shape split down the middle; the city is crescent shaped. The map was very bad, but the split may have been a river. There were also what looked like cogs of a gear which radiated from the southeast of the city… they may have represented docks. There was no ocean here, but there may certainly have been very large lakes.

Hayden kicks one of the hull-like objects. It creaks and slowly falls over. Then the rest begin to creak… Sheila: “Really? We just got here…” (Strelok reminds her of the lights in the Veil, and the poking of such with a sword…) The sound of dry timber cracking and falling fills the area, and we feel a directional movement beneath our feet. Zephyr suspects that something knows we are here. Strelok: “Son of a bitch… This is why we can’t have nice things.” He walks about 100ft away and shoots into the ground. The rumbling returns… Hayden asks why we are now trying to find trouble, and Strelok says that it would have happened eventually anyway, and at least now we know where it is. Or something. A tentacle emerges from the ground, wraps around Strelok’s leg, and pulls. And the rest of the party is still 100 feet away.

Polena is up first! She gapes. Good job, Polena. Strelok draws his gun and puts it up against the tentacle. He hits it with the first shot, but the recoil causes him to miss the second. His hand appears to be covered with ice as he punches downwards. The tentacle retreats, and the rumblings cease. Strelok is angry that it left, and yells at the ground. And then starts casting spells wildly at the ground. When the party inquires, a lightning bolt is cast in our general direction. Strelok is quite angry. He walks off without his bird. The party is concerned.

Sheila tells him to halt. Strelok is more of teh angry. Polena grabs the bird’s reins and tugs it away as Strelok storms over. Sheila attempts to calm Strelok, and asks very diplomatically WTF is up. Strelok approaches to nearly headbutting distance. There is a very strange, unfamiliar look in his eyes. Sheila holds her ground and returns the stare. Then Strelok suddenly wanders towards the city. Sheila asks that Hayden go look after Strelok, not wanting anyone going by themself. Hayden is reluctant, as Strelok “seems a little murdery right now”. Zephyr goes after Strelok. Sheila asks the others to find a good camp site and leave an obvious trail so that it can be found. She thanks Polena for stepping up. Polena says she didn’t want the bird to die… and he’s not very smart… Sheila makes sure Hayden is on the same page (“work with Polena and Aeric”); Hayden recommends we not split up at all. The rest of the party follow Zephyr and Strelok.

As we get closer to the city, we see the remnants of docks. We reach a very tall wall the stretches to either side. Strelok reaches it first, and uses spider climb. From the top he sees a carefully paved street, buildings in a sprawling array… the city looks like it was in the midst of development when it fell. Hayden and Zephyr climb after Strelok; Polena looks around, then sets off South, not wanting to climb up and leave the bird alone on the ground. Sheila follows her. Aeric is sulking a bit, but accompanies them. He is flipping a coin over and over — a coin Sheila had not seen when searching him earlier.

Hayden and Zephyr reach Strelok at the top of the wall. “Everything is dead,” Strelok notes. We see a taller building, partly obscured by the haze, and Hayden head towards it. Zephyr points out that a higher vantage point is unlikely to help, given the haze. Hayden heads off anyway.

Meanwhile, Aeric is pouting childishly. Sheila asks what the hell is up. He says he sees no point in stopping in the city. He just wants to finish the journey and leave. “But hey, you’re the leader”. Sheila gets POed, points out that she helped pay him, and demands some professionalism. Aeric is an ass and says it was the church who paid him, not her. He says he’s sure Hayden told her about all the fun he (Aeric) had been having, and said this was no longer fun. Sheila asks what is with the inconsistent attitudes and behavior; for example, how he’ll get antsy, go kill something, and seem completely changed. He doesn’t see any problem with this, and says its like her meditating. Aeric asks what this conversation has to do with finding Sir Throws-A-Fit. Sheila finally gives up and keeps walking; Polena looks confused at Aeric’s strange behavior.

Back on the wall, Zephyr realizes Strelok had vanished when she glanced away. She swears. Hayden hadn’t gone far, and he returns to help locate Strelok. Zephyr considers summoning wolves and requesting their aid in tracking, but has nothing to offer them… aside from Pallas. Further, Strelok may have already descended. She nixes that idea. Hayden looks for footprints, but has no luck. Zephyr casts Detect Magic, and is able to determine that Strelok headed into the city. Hayden and Zephyr follow him west. Unbeknownst to them, Strelok is tracking. He finds signs of large insects.

Aeric, Sheila, and Polena reach a door in the wall. It is locked. That is not a problem. Sheila breaks open the door and follows the wall, looking upwards for the rest of the party. Suddenly Strelok’s bird makes a noise, and takes off. Polena chases it; Aeric and Sheila follow. They fall behind, but can see Polena’s footprints and the tracks of both birds. Sheila also sees footprints of the others in the party. She follows the birds.

Hayden and Zephyr are nearly trampled by a bird and Polena. They continue on, and Aeric runs past Hayden and Zephyr on his bird, saying something spooked Jake. Aeric says to stay put; Zephyr continues onward.

Jake finds Strelok, and Polena arrives soon after. Strelok offers her water, and abruptly reveals that he believes the gun found in the village to have belonged to his brother. Aeric appears and bitches. He attempts a pep talk “all for one” style. Polena tries to gesture him to shut up. Aeric and Strelok have a near stand-off as the rest of the party arrives. Polena, seeing the mounting aggression, announces that she is done with the both of them. She tells Strelok to take his bird, and suck it (presumably not the bird). Aeric is intrigued by this new side of her. “You got dibs on that?” Strelok hits him with his wooden sword, and he falls off his bird. Strelok tells him to say it again. Aeric gets annoyed and storms off. SO MUCH DRAMA. He says he will wait at the wall. Strelok takes charge of both birds. Sheila, the latest arrival, is not sure she wants to know what she missed.

Sheila asks if anyone still wants to explore the city, or if we should just head to the forest. An unfamiliar voice says “I think we should explore the city!” Hayden says: “I agree!” He wants to find valuables. Zephyr, on the other hand, wants to collect data.

The haze is dissipating a bit. We see a walled keep. Hayden wants to check it out. Sheila wants to designate a base camp; as the tallest building in sight, the keep may be harboring the flying creatures as they roost. However, we also need something distinctive. The church is the next largest, and is distinctive; we decide on that.

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Like a Mastiff Trying to Eat a Bee
Did we seriously not game for two and a half months??

The next day is 12 hours of trudging. It gets drier. Hayden drinks the horrid alcohol, which dehydrates him further. We camp in the valley of two round hills. As the sun begins to set, we see two winged shadows over the city. They fly south, away from us. In that direction is a shimmering silhouette, about a mile and a half away, which they circle around. Suddenly we feel and hear a series of shock waves. They pass, and we watch the two figures attack a much larger being, the beating of their wings stirring up clouds of dust. They eventually settle. The party notes that this is the second time we’ve seen these creatures near the city we are heading towards. Strelok offers to take care of them now; he and Hayden believe they may be lazy after eating, and potentially injured from their attack. Aeric offers to accompany Strelok. Zephyr says she will also come, but Strelok ultimately decides not to go. Consulting the maps, Zephyr determines that our journey in the desert thus far has taken longer than expected, and that we are about two days from the city. We should see its walls by tomorrow afternoon. Hayden passes out, leaving the rest of the party to assign watches.

The first watch passes quietly. The nebula is gorgeous in this area. Towards the end of first watch, the winged creatures are seen returning to the city. Strelok mentions to Polena that we’ll need to take care of them at some point; Polena says they don’t seem like mean creatures; “they need to eat, don’t they?” The second watch is spent in research (Zephyr), and weapon polishing (Aeric). Mid-shift, Zephyr begins feeling a bit light headed, dry of throat, perhaps a bit queasy. She drinks water and feels better. Pallas seems to be feeling the same. Perhaps just the heat of the day. Third watch, Sheila enters Hayden’s tent to wake him. Shaking has no effect. Hitting gets some grunts, and a comment about “liking it rough”. Sheila finally gets him up. He complains about the brightness of the stars and the loudness of her voice. Hayden is disgruntled that he must be awake when the only thing seen m
moving is a scorpion in the distance. He falls asleep and is shoved over. Etc.

Half an hour later, a shrill whistling trill rouses Hayden from his near-sleep state. He looks around, but sees nothing. 20-30 minutes later, just as he is about to sleep again, the sound repeats. This happens two or three times. Sheila, who has actually been attentive, has been enjoying watch small birds come to eat a breakfast of insects. [And then Cody terrifies Scout with his screeching bird cry].

A new day begins. The axe-beaks are in a good mood, and seem interested in eating the small birds (like popcorn! …think a mastiff trying to eat a bee….). Strelok lets the axe-beaks off-leash. Meanwhile, Zephyr’s belly is rumbling… she is desperately thirsty and quite hungry. She looks for her Ring of Sustenence… and finds it missing. WTF. She knows that there is no way a magical ring could have come off without her knowledge. She thinks she saw it last approximately four days ago, in the evening. She shares the problem with the rest of the party. Hayden asks whether the axe-beaks like shiny things. Aeric: “Ladies like shiny things!” Zephyr threatens his life, and Hayden offers to help. The rest of the party determines that only Zephyr and Strelok are missing things… in Strelok’s case, it is booze.

Hayden says there is enough food, but Zephyr insists that is not the problem. Hayden convinces her to eat anyway. He’s smart sometimes. Strelok offers ideas of other people stealing, but it seems unlikely. Polena asks if it might not be the desert.
Hayden (whispering to Zephyr): Have we seen Polena eat?
Zephyr: What? I don’t pay attention to Polena…

Then Zephyr realizes Pallas felt the same as her last night. Looking at him in his pouch, he has found some nuts, seeds, and a bug. She reaches in to take him out, displeasing him. It may have been a sympathetic response last night. Now he is feeling ornery. He snorts and puffs up. Zephyr sees something shiny below him. “How did you get my ring?”
“I didn’t take your ring! People keep putting hands in my pouch! Trying to get my seeds!!”
Zephyr assumes he irritabily batted at her hand at one some point when she reached in to retrieve him, and unintentionally pulled it off. But she is not certain…

[Misc Zephyr Notes:
VILLAGE: detect magic, detect disease, detect magic, flora samples
REMINDER: these villages abandoned 5-15 years ago. ]

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Zoological and Ecological Discoveries that No One Except Zephyr Cares About but are Totally Relevant to the Mission
This Log is Totally Not Being Posted in February 2014.

So, the second centipede emerges. Dun dun DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN.

Polena moves over to Strelok and asks if this is one of those times when she should use her “bad” magic, or if she should just stay back and hope it doesn’t eat her. “YES! KILL IT!” Strelok shoots at it, destroying an eye. The head is now covered with sticky purple ichor. The centipede curls around to consider us. A bubble swells in its throat; Hayden yells for everyone to get down. It froths a bit at the mouth just before projectile vomitting, catching Sheila and Aeric with an acid attack.

Aeric ducks behind a bush and pulls out a vial to drink. Meanwhile, the rumbling beneath our feet becomes more intense, and the ground behind the current centipede bulges. A third centipede emerges (we are now fighting two). Zephyr moves so that she has a clear shot at the centipedes, and casts spectral hand. Wanting to get a range weapon from Zephyr, Hayden goes to follow her, but is stopped by Polena. His arm feels warm and tingly. Polena says he is now protected from the acid. Not so much from electricity… Hayden goes to Zephyr and is handed an alchemist’s fire. Sheila attacks the one-eyed centipede and kicks its fucking ASS. Basically cuts it in half. Hayden mutters about kill stealing. Sheila’s sword again begins to bubble and smoke.

Polena starts walking slowly towards the remaining centipede. She stops about twenty feets away, closes her eyes, and creates a huge wave of water to push the centipede back into its hole. The tunnel collapses, and the rumbling feeling beneath our feet now feels more like desperate thrashing. Strelok considers casting lightning bolt, but is apparently delirious with pain… he doesn’t have that spell. Aeric darts out, grabs a dazed Polena, and yanks her back behind a bush. After another moment, the rumbling ceases. One remaining centipede creeps pathetically out of the ground and lays on the ground, facing away from the party. Hayden and Sheila walk over to it. Strelok approaches halfway, then shoots it between the eyes. Or tries… one of its mandibles is shot off. It squirms sluggishly. Zephyr returns to her bedroll, figuring the others can handle the rest. Hayden throws his vial of alchemist’s fire down its gullet. It thrashes and dies.

There is still an hour left for middle watch. Before returning to bed, Strelok shoots the centipede in the face. Sheila goes around to see if people need healing. Strelok’s hand and forearm are blistered and painful, traveling as far up the arm as the splash of the centipede’s blood reached. Polena is able to use a restoration spell; it remains painful, but is now usable (no more con damage). Rather than take her remaining hour of sleep, Sheila works on buffing her sword.

Strelok’s bird — Jake — seems perturbed about not being invited to help; bugs are his favorite food. He nips Strelok’s shoulder. Strelok offers scorpion meat, but before allowing Jack to eat it, Strelok firmly tells his bird that he would have been killed. “Kill you. Bad.” Strelok’s finger is nipped as the food is taken, but Jack seems happy now. Strelok goes to sleep.

The remainder of the middle shift and the entirety of the morning shift are uneventful. Sheila’s sword still has a few pockmarks, but is mostly buffed out. She waits an extra hour before waking the party. In the meantime, Aeric comes to her with “concerns about the morale of the party”. He says he does not mean to question her, but “a lack of a clear plan” in such a dangerous place makes him uneasy, and may be contributing to the unrest of the party. (Luckily, Zephyr is sleeping, so she does not go off on him). Sheila outlines the plan: go to the village, then head to the city. Aeric wants to know if we shall set up a base of operations at the city. Sheila says we will set up as defensible a position as possible before exploring the city. From there we go to the forest. However, because of the city’s size, we won’t have one defensible position; rather, we will keep moving, camping further along each night. Aeric thanks her for allaying his concerns. However, he also asks if she has considered a course of action should we find refugees; he implies that some might go feral in a place such as this, and become dangerous. She says that refuges from beyonds the woods are unheard of. Should it happen, the first priority is to find out why there are here.

The party wakes. We should reach the village by the end of the day. Zephyr goes to the centipede corpses. She hopes to collect a few vials of acid blood, but when putting a stick into it, nothing happens; it has become inert. She uses spectral hand to rend open one of the corpses, and uses the stick to test blood from heart; no affect. The liquidy-wax on the carapace may still be poisonous, but it has hardened and flakes off. She collects the flakes into several vials. She takes them to Polena and asks her to detect poison; she says there is poison present, but doesn’t think it will work in its current form. Zephyr says she will make an oil from it and bring it back to Polena for detection. Meanwhile, cute interactions happen between Strelok and his bird: bird nips, Strelok head butts; bird makes regurgitating noises, and Strelok threatens another head butt. Bird swallows. Strelok turns to leave, and hears a splat; the bird has pooped on his saddle. Strelok prestidigitates it clean. The bird attempts to avoid eye contact as Strelok threatens him. While being saddled, he kicks dirt onto Strelok’s boots. Strelok starts yelling at the bird, trying to convince it that not being included in the battle last night was for the bird’s own good. Jake continues to ignore Strelok.

Polena looks a bit “green around the gills” this morning. Strelok thanks her for the healing the night before, and Hayden compliments her wave spell. She is still feeling reluctant about the arcane magic use.

Concluding her inspection of the corpses, Zephyr notices that the wet patches now have mushrooms springing up. She and Hayden realize that the Forest has spread here due to there finally being enough water for it. Luckily, the areas around are just as dry, and this area will soon dry out as well. Still, it is an astounding demonstration of how prolific the Forest’s spores are; more mushrooms spring up even as the party watches. Zephyr takes a mushroom and puts it into an airtight jar; wanting to discover why the insects are increasing in numbers and attacking the wall more frequently, she feels the spread of the Forest may be relevant. This may be vital for future study. As she puts the jar into her pouch, the shadows within the pouch reveal a soft blue glow from the mushroom.

Zephyr has also translated another passage from the book; the work is going faster as she becomes familiar with the language.
First sign the smile does split
nose to nape open to lit
grinning madness blight feast
grow to fit the hapless man
et’ing mages hand.

She shares the passage with the party. They surmise that the last line means that the blight worms consume magic.

The party sets off for the village. We trudge. It is very hot. Hayden starts talking about the parable of the grasshopper and the ant— Zephyr says the lazy grasshoppers taking advantage of the hard-working ants reminds her of when Hayden used to not take night watches. Strelok tells the story of the scorpion and the frog, eyeing Hayden and Aeric as he does so. Hayden catches the look. “You’re the one eating scorpion… am I missing something?” Polena says her brother loved parables. He used to particularly like one about a not-so-wise owl. She doesn’t remember how it goes. We continue trudging. Navigation is more difficult today due to there being more heat waves making the horizon less clear. Strelok’s navigational skills keep us on track (the rocks are coated on one side with spores from the forest, so it is in that direction, “or some bullshit like that”. So sayeth the GM.)

Around 4:30pm, the heat starts to ebb ever so slightly, and we think we see buildings on the road ahead. We start seeing the remains of fences and farmhouses, abandoned farm equipment, etc. Places with thinner scrub look like they may have once been paths branching off from the main road. Within an hour, we reach a small, dilapidated village. Most buildings have been reduced to their foundations. A few stone buildings remain, most with collapsed rooves. A loud creaking sound alerts us to the fact that at least one nearby building is unstable. Hayden eagerly checks out the standing buildings, while Zephyr makes a rough map of the vilalge. There are three: Hayden first enters one that seems to have been a general store. The interior is decently intact, and it seems stable. There is a display case and shelving. It has been largely cleared out. There is a great deal of broken pottery. There are a few unmarked, sealed barrels; Hayden attempts to open one. It seems oddly sealed, unlike what he is used to. There is a dark resin, unlike the pitch used in sea ports. It is very heavy. Sheila enters and asks what he’s found. She takes the barrel out with ease. There are two Xs on the back. Hayden hopes for booze. The smell of pitch reminds Hayden of one of his first nights out on the town (“modern Haydenism”).

Hayden rifles through drawers and finds a tap, as well as two very sharp knives, 16 crossbow bolts, and ammo. Hayden calls to Strelok to tell him about the ammo. “Also booze.” Hayden puts in the tap; it is, in fact, booze. It’s been aging for a long time. Strelok fills his flask (the one stolen from several nights prior). He tastes the alcohol— it is horrendous. “Oh god, it’s the best and worst scotch I’ve ever had in my life! I don’t know if I should take this, or burn it where it stands!” Although the smell burns his nostrils, Hayden fills one of his waterskins with the stuff. Aeric comes in, saying he smells something “rather pleasantly unpleasant”. He also takes a flask. Sheila shakes her head at the strangeness. Strelok is still sputtering and wheezing.

Hayden opens a door in the back of the building. He sees something glowing in a corner of the dark room. Strelok provides light via magic. There are boxes and barrels, and in one corner… goo. Slick, shiny, the source of the glowing, attached to the wall like a cobweb. Hayden calls for Zephyr, who can’t hear him. He asks someone to go find the “little witch girl”, and Sheila leaves the building to call her. Strelok cannot quite figure out what he is looking at. He sees bone protruding from the goo. Closer inspection shows skull shards in the ichor. Where the goo touches the floor, mushrooms are springing up, their roots extending under the surface of the mebrane of the goo. Zephyr arrives. She and several of the others notices that the floor under it doesn’t quite line up with the rest of the floor; a trap door, perhaps?

Zephyr, in her research of the Forest, has read about large, slow moving beetles acting almost like agents of the forest; wrap up whatever they can’t eat, and leave it. Spores from the Forest appear. “Corpse piles”.

As Zephyr inspects, Strelok looks for a handle. He spots one beneath the ichor. Hayden stops him, takes out his flask of alcohol, and proposes burning it. (Polena and Aeric have returned outside to scout). Strelok doesn’t want to fuck with it. Hayden tries another method: he retrieves a small handsaw he saw out in the main store and cuts into the floor, rather than the goo. Hole big enough to see through, but an uncomfortable squeeze. We look through, Strelok sending light down. We see a cellar basement, still full of inventory; ransacking of the store probably happened after “corpse beetle” left its goo and blocked this storage space.

Strelok finds rope and tosses it at Hayden’s feet as he widens the hole. Hayden descends and starts rifling. Boxes are mostly unlabeled. Odds and ends, knick knacks, oddness. Swords in a corner, quality undetermined. Hayden uses an obviously rusted one as a crowbar to start opening things. Strelok comes down to assist. He examines the swords, but finds it hard to determine the quality in this lighting. A few seem to be completely unrusted. He grabs the untarnished and just slightly tarnished swords and brings them to Sheila, who brings them into natural light for examination. The unrusted swords look well-forged. One is marked with an old religious symbol, perhaps belonging to a paladin long ago. It is a long sword. The other’s hilt and blade are of an unusual style; clearly custom made. It is large, for two-handed use unless the weilder is exceptionally strong. [RETCON, only found the long sword]

Strelok requests help, but as an afterthought, asks who is keeping watch. Zephyr says Aeric and Polena are out scouting, but reminds them that Strelok’s bird would alert them to approaching badness.

Finds: hammers, nails, other hand tools, farming equipment, fertilizers; box of hand-marker vials (growth aid?), box of healing potions, third box of vials with reading unreadable in this lighting; two intact water skins, a carrying contraption (barrel-like with straps, a tap-like spout connected to a tube).

Sheila comes down to help. There is an armoir that calls to her. Opening it, she finds a beautiful set of fullplate armor, with insignias matching the longsword she had just examined. It is in excellent condition, not rusted at all. At the base of the armoir is a small velvet box containing a necklace with a heavy gold chain, centered with a large insignia matching those on armor and sword. Sheila wonders if it is a precursor of modern Pelor-ism. In the center of the insignia is a ruby. The sun insignia matches the symbol seen on the child’s corpse several days before. RETCON: this symbol in a more primative form is on the disk we found in the Veil.

Strelok takes the vials to Zephyr, and collects the carrying contraption and waterskins. He lays his finds on the building’s porch.

Also found: a prototype rifle. Looks like a piece of crap, but hey, historical value. Strelok sees Hayden holding it: “WOAH WOAH woah, that end to the floor!” Hayden has loaded it and pulls the trigger; bullet richochets off ceiling. Hayden: “It still works!” Strelok: “Son of a bitch!” Strelok enforces a mandatory gun safety lesson. Once in the sunlight, Strelok can tell it is at least 20 years old. It’s a wonder the thing ever shot, let alone currently can. Set of initials on stock (CR) makes Strelok think it might be an Original from the inventor of firearms (Cedric Riverstone). He confiscates the rifle reverently, and gushes, saying it is priceless (Hayden says if it is priceLESS, he isn’t interested in it). He gushes more.

Hayden takes some growth aid potion and puts it on his hand with the embedded shard. His hand tingles; it turns a shade of green akin to the armor, and spikes begin to emerge. Vine tendrils emerge and create a gauntlet. It hurts much less than usual. He takes several vials of the growth aid (which will let him use the armor on specific body parts, rather than in an all-or-nothing matter).

Assorted vials aren’t immediately identifiable. Zephyr examines them, and IDs:
3 Silvery mist vials – enchantment
2 bottles, red viscous – evocation
5 blue gels – divine, healing
2 pink liquid – conjuration
1 green mist – conjuration
1 silver glowing – abjuration

Aeric and Polena return from investigating the other buildings; nothing of value. Aeric recommends we camp here for the night. Neither of the other two buildings have corpse goo, and one of them is stable; we camp there.

That night, Zephyr discovers a slip of loose paper in book; same language, different dialect perhaps? Seems to be a personal note. Translation:
The creatures move quietly now, only two score remain of our scouting party. A contingent of 200 reduced to this. At least Uk’laar fell instead of… well we don’t like discussing the change in detail. I am haunted by their eyes. Lost to the blight but still afraid of their death.

WE ALL GAIN A LEVEL!

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Brain dead.

Creatures mostly blind, hunt by echo-location… deaf Yrthak are dead Yrthak. Sonic attacks, tendency to cause collateral damage. Like to explode ground you are standing on.

As we try to decide what action to take, Hayden looks at some nearby stumps. He sees a hollow log and sneakily hides in it. The creatures are about two hours away, but don’t look to be going fast. The group votes to try to attract them so that they will arrive before sundown; theoretically we could then dispatch them before worrying about darkness impeding us. Strelok shoots his gun into the air a few times. The sound echoes across the desert, and the creatures pause, hovering. They then swoop back towards the tree line. Zephyr recommends we travel perpendicular to our current trajectory, so that if the creatures decide to return (possibly with reinforcements) it will be harder to pinpoint our location. Sheila decides she would rather not take the time for this detour; we continue traveling in the same direction. We are within a day’s hike of the village.—

Soon Aeric sees what seems to be a path, or at least a gap, in the scrub. It is about a half mile away. Zephyr recommends setting up camp in that gap, using the scrub as a way to prevent or at least confuse identification of us as prey via echolocation.

The gap turns out to be a road extending towards the Forest in one direction, and roughly in the direction of the village in the other. The earth looks like something heavy was dragged; this pathway may not have been a proper road. It may have been created by the large shapes we’ve seen in the distance. We set up camp in the scrub.

Strelok invites Polena to join him for the first watch. Zephyr reminds them that staying within the scrub would be the best way to avoid detection (or else form small barrier that may confuse the identification). Hayden wants to put up a hammock, and ignores Zephyr’s advice of using the scrub as camo; she says that that is fine, as Sheila can always rescue him when he gets eaten again.

Polena asks to speak to Strelok. She thinks she can help with the Yrthak, mentioning that Sheila revealed that deafness is virtually a death sentence for these creatures. She is still reluctant to use the “bad magic”, but Strelok encourages her; using it to help people means it isn’t bad. Polena believes that Sheila would not approve. Strelok reassures her with logic and that kind of good stuff.

Strelok watches the Forest as best he can in the dark, and does not see any shadows rising from the canopy (the night sky is clear, and the nebula provides about as much light as a half-moon). The first watch ends, and Hayden and Zephyr take over. About 1.5 hr later (2am), Zephyr feels a rumbling. Pallas emerges from his pouch, chirping in an alarmed way. Zephyr quickly wakes the others. She advices they not move, since a burrowing creature will likely feel the vibrations. Strelok soon gets antsy and begins walking to a more open part of the scrub. The ground suddenly moves, and a large head bursts forth. It appears to be a centipede. It clacks its mandibles in a menacing manner.

Fighting happens. We all attack… except Polena, who tries to get away from Strelok’s anxious bird (who wants desperately to eat the centipede), then calls to Strelok to ask if he is OK.

After her first attack, Sheila sees that her sword seems to bubble and crack where the creature’s blood was on it. Unfortunately, she notices this just after Strelok used frigid touch and shoved his fist into the centipede’s ruined eye. It turns out that not only the blood is acidic, but the exoskeleton is also covered in a waxy poisonous substance… Strelok takes a con damage. Not being able to see the damage done to Sheila’s sword, Aeric charges in and slices into the abdomen. The creature is killed, but one of Aerick’s weapons begins to melt at the tip.

And then a second centipede emerges from the hole.

Centipede INFO: low hp, heavy offense, poisonous bite, electrical bolt attack, acid breath weapon, corrosive blood, poisonous to the touch… no known predators. Immune to electricity.

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Into the Desert (yay.)

At the edge of the (regular) woods, there are many fallen trees. Strelok seeks out the easiest path. His bird starts hesitating, and when Strelok has him hop onto a log, he squawks and hops back off, thrashing his head a bit. Strelok gets him under control, and looks around for something that may have set the bird off. Hayden and Sheila also look around. They notice a lot of heat seems to be coming from under some of the logs. Looking out at the desert, there is a patch of clear air— no heat waves. Zephyr is poked. As they look, this gap in the heat waves is visible only from certain angles, as if only two dimensional. Zephyr suggests it might be a underwater river; the heat below the logs could be from decomposing vegetation. Alternatively, it might be an ice creature, but they are not generally found in this clime. If an underground river, the cooler area may be the best path to take. Zephyr suggests that Strelok take his bird to that area to see how it will react; it may have been reacting to the unpleasant heat elsewhere. It is a bit difficult to find how to enter this area. Hayden sees a dip in the ground floor a few yards back into the woods. Investigation shows cool mud at this dip; probably the origin of the underground river.

A small tunnel also starts here, which travels beneath the fallen trees. We would need to crawl through. However, without the birds, climbing across the logs would be difficult. Polena does not appear pleased by the prospect of taking the tunnel. Strelok offers riding the bird across, and she reluctantly decides that would be preferable. Aeric offers to take one person over. Hayden climbs on his own, and Sheila offers the ride to Zephyr. Sheila starts crawling.

It takes Hayden 45 minutes to get just to the top of the tree fell. He discovers that it is oddly steep. The birds reach the top in only ten minutes, and await his arrival. Meanwhile, Sheila encounters a large rat-like creature, which stops four feet in front of her and stomps in a threatening manner. Sheila stomps back and advances. Sheila wins! Rat-thing retreats. She notes a necrotic smell it leaves behind. A few hours of crawling later, there is a larger area of tunnel, where Sheila can stand and stretch. More light is filtering through the logs here. Shortly thereafter, she reaches open desert. None of the other party members are there yet. Sheila scans the logs, but does not see them. She cleans her armor as she waits. It is just after lunchtime.

Back with the rest of the party: After about an hour from the top of the tree fell, there is a slant downward. Zephyr spots a large blue tail disappearing into the woodfall; another Behir. It should only attack if threatened or exceptionally hungry. Zephyr suggests that there should be no risk, as we are not being threatening, but are clearly not vulnerable. Hayden points out that Sheila is by herself; Strelok replies that she handled herself perfectly well the last time, even saving someone (hint hint cough). We continue cautiously, and see no further evidence of the creature. As the logs begin to slant, they also begin to thin; this causes problems for Hayden, who’s strides are smaller than the birds’. Progress is slow. Hayden falls into two small pits, but sustains no injury.

Sheila hears the party before she sees them: Hayden cursing, Aeric pleading for silence, Polena whining about the heat. Sheila sighs and puts her things away, appreciating the half hour of peace she’d had. We reunite. Strelok prestidigitates Sheila clean… the smell coming off her is extremely strong. We decide to rest for an hour, as it is around the hottest time of day. We go into the mouth of the tunnel where it is relatively cool, about 20 yards in. Towards the end of the hour, Aeric grows antsy. He suggests that we resume the journey. Hayden does not relish the prospect… but then remembers his veil suit, and puts it on. It is very comfortable.

We set out. The day is hot, tiring, but uneventful. We see more blundering shadows on the horizon, and some birds flying near the forest. Polena lasts for two entire hours before she complains about the heat; Sheila is a bit impressed. She casts Endure Elements on her and several other party members, but Aeric declines, removing his breastplate instead. Polena gives him many admiring glances, and Strelok quickly takes off his as well.

Night falls. The desert here is rocky and has many scrubby plants; not comfortable ground to camp on. Hayden requests that Strelok cast fire ball, which should burn the plants and send the rocks flying (the rest of us stand back). Strelok also uses acid arrows and magic missiles, and we set up camp. Only twenty minutes have passed before we feel a rumbling. Hayden decides to ignore it and go back to sleep. Strelok offers first watch, and Zephyr says she will join him. With Sheila taking morning watch and assuming responsibility for waking Hayden at that time, Aeric and Polena are left with the middle watch. Strelok is displeased. As various people prepare for bed or go on watch, the rumbling seems to get a bit deeper. After awhile, it seems possible that something is circling at a distance, perhaps investigating our presence. It makes the first watch uncomfortable, as both watchers are on constant alert. Eventually, Strelok walks a short distance from the camp site and stomps as hard as he can. He does this around a perimeter. On the opposite side of the camp, he gets a response: a whooshing rumble that seems to pass beneath Strelok’s feet. It is deep enough not to disturb the surface, but Strelok can feel it. Not knowing how fast the thing is moving, Strelok guesses its size could range from five to twenty-five feet long. He continues his stomping perimeter, but does not feel it again. He tells Zephyr something seems to be hunting them; she suggests that it may only be investigating. He is rather more pessimistic.

Rumblings continue throughout the night, but the watches are otherwise uneventful. Hayden noted a bit of a prickly feeling when the rumbling noises were particularly close.

As we prepare to leave the next moment, Hayden looks to see whether our footprints from the day before are visible. They are partially blown away, but are still trackable. He is glad to see they are in a straight line, rather than in a circle.

After traveling for less than an hour, we spot a group of flapping wings in the distance. There are two of them, quite large, and are flying over the desert. Hayden and Sheila saw them rise from the Forest earlier in the morning, but thought nothing of them. They are now headed in our general direction.

Sheila tries to discuss Hayden’s disk and the embedded sliver, but he clearly does not like the topic.

The flying creatures come steadily closer. At least 15 feet long and bulky, they are reptilian, with leathery wings and vibrant coloring. From the vibrant crests and narrow snouts, Zephyr thinks they are Ythrak. They are blind creatures who use sound to hunt. They speak draconic and are fairly intelligent. They are ravenous and “terrorizing”. As the sun reaches its zenith, they rise higher and head back towards the Forest. Sheila casts endure elements on the party (sans Hayden, who has his veil suit). Strelok requests his share of the spell split between himself and his mount. Looking at Polena, Strelok thinks she might look a little impressed by this…. or maybe not. After the sun has receded a bit, we see shadows return to the sky; by 6pm, they are close enough to see the details. The Ythrak are back. They seem to be on a more direct course towards us. At least the day has been rumble-free…

Strelok discusses long-range weaponry, Zephyr offers bombs, and Hayden hopes they will negotiate. Strelok does not want to deal with a nighttime attack.

NOTE – Sheila prepares “Know the Enemy”

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In Which Booze Goes Missing and Hayden Totally Didn't Do It

The party sets the same watches — Hayden and Zephyr, Strelok and Polena, Aeric and Sheila. Hayden steals Strelok’s booze, while Zephyr tries to translate a page with a particularly gruesome diagram detailing the face split. Hayden begins singing; Zephyr, taking note of his drinking, sighs and puts the book away so that she can devote more attention to the watch. She finds this watch tedious.

Strelok gets up for his watch, and something feels off; lighter, perhaps. He checks his coin purse first; finding nothing wrong, he checks the booze. The once full container sloshes. Strelok glares at Hayden, who tells him that Aeric drank it. Damn bluff ranks. Hayden then chides Strelok for thinking about drinking when he’s supposed to be on watch.

Strelok tries to wake Polena, who asks sleepily if he might do the watch without her, then prompty falls back asleep. Strelok tries to wake her, and she asks why he’s being so mean. Strelok relents, but is rather annoyed by his loss of both booze and time spent with a pretty girl. He stays awake by trying out fencing moves he saw in Aeric and Hayden’s duel.

Strelok’s watch ends. He wakes Aeric with a kick in the shin, mentioning the stolen booze. Aeric apologizes, but says he has no recollection of it. Strelok said it is fine; maybe it wasn’t even Aeric. Aeric asks why he thinks it is him. Strelok tells him Hayden had told him, and Aeric reminds Strelok that he was sleeping during the first shift… while Hayden was awake. Suspicious! Strelok apologizes for kicking Aeric in the shin, and goes to wake Sheila.

Aeric tends to the birds as Sheila stretches and does her morning routine. When the sun begins to rise, she starts getting her gear together; the crashing noises wake the rest of the party. They arise with varying levels of annoyance.

The birds are lively today. Strelok interacts with his bird and finds him feisty, but playful rather than mean or irritated. Aeric gets impatient. Polena seems to be lagging, so Strelok goes to help her pack up. She seems very tired, and says she feels like she hasn’t slept at all. Strelok assures her that she did. She asks why he didn’t wake her for watch; hearing that he had tried, she hopes he isn’t mad. He promises that he isn’t.

We set off. We have about two hours of travel through woods before reaching the desert, where we will cross to reach the Forest. It is uneventful, and we reach the desert by eight. It has been overcast all morning, but the humidity has increased; strange, since we are approaching a desert environment. We see several dust plumes in the distance, but their cause is unknown. We can also see a marine haze where the Forest is.

As we travel, the air gets drier, and the day gets hotter. Heat ripples are soon seen on the horizon. Strelok dismounts from his bird to ease its burden, and it warbles appreciatively, gently head butting and nuzzling at the treat pouch Strelok wears. Even after given a treat, he persists, poking more roughly. Strelok smacks the beak a little and says, “no.” The bird hisses and walks away. Strelok pets him, but is ignored.

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Translations, Duels, and Split Personalities
Hayden may have self esteem issues.

Aeric tells Strelok that someone missed him while he was gone; Strelok has no idea who he means. After a short exchange of Aeric being amazed and sarcastic and Strelok being clueless, the latter ends with the impression that they were talking about his bird. Hayden is cracking up.

Polena soon comes out and tells Strelok she was scared without him, which he finds surprising. She doesn’t want him to leave her alone again. Strelok: “You mean if I left, you’d want to come with me?” Polena: “…No.” (She explains she’s on assignment, although she thinks Sheila hates her.) Strelok says he wouldn’t leave without her, and puts a hand on her shoulder; she turns bright red and says she thinks she hears Sheila calling. She runs over to Sheila and offers to help with her armor.

Strelok goes over to his bird, who is fussy. He is displeased that Aeric invaded his personal space and Strelok was gone. Strelok gives apology scritches, but is still getting the evil eye. Strelok offers meat, and all is well between the two. The prepare to head out.

Hayden asks where we are headed. Since this isn’t the village on the map we were heading towards, that is still our destination. Strelok and Sheila discuss the upcoming desert crossing.

Meanwhile, Zephyr has made a breakthrough in her cypher, and has translated a passage:
“Slug of death and leech of life
Body one with he the blight
Split from health and body sound
Fears the lead not mages bound
Twenty and twelve the beasts hide
Nights and days sust supplied
To et darkness, flesh and hope
alive”

On the same page is a diagram of the stages
1. Humanoid torso and head
2. Humanoid torso and head with lines on face where split occurs
3. Face split, parasitic creature emerging

Aeric speaks with Sheila about the mission, expressing his concern about our trip to the village: he feels it a waste of time.

Hayden asks about why WE were sent, when there are all those men on the wall. Well, the men being sent from the wall weren’t coming back. Aeric suggests that those guarding the wall are usually those not fit for polite society, or else those who had displeased a superior. Zephyr adds that their ability to use force to repel attackers has no bearing on their ability to figure out WHY the attacks are increasing. Strelok points out that we have experience in this sort of thing, and have proven ourselves. Hayden still wonders why it has to be us. Zephyr believes he may have self esteem issues. Still, says Hayden, perhaps this is too good - and strange- to be true. Well, replies Strelok, we’ll detonate that bridge when we come to it. (it’s funny cuz we totes did that).

We see some non-violent wildlife as we travel, which is a good sign. As night falls, we find a clearing almost enclosed by a canopy entwined with vines. It is enclosed on two sides, with a third easily defensible. We decide to camp. Zephyr immediately sits down with the book, encouraged with the progress she has made. Strelok offers to take middle watch with Polena; she seems slightly hesitant, and he promises that he won’t leave. “No, you won’t,” she says. Hayden and Zephyr take first watch, although Zephyr studies the book as much as she can while still being on the lookout (Pallas assists). The watch passes uneventfully. Strelok and Polena begin their watch in silence. Polena looks at her notes, and manages to make a tiny light in her palm. She gets nervous and quickly covers it. Strelok says she is doing well; Polena is still somewhat ashamed of using this sort of magic. She asks that Strelok not tell Sheila. He agrees, but says that using something to help people isn’t bad. Power itself isn’t bad, either; how one uses it is what is important. Polena reveals that she doesn’t want to upset the church because she has no where else to go; “no one else would take me”. Later in the conversation, she expresses her desire to be able to protect herself. “As a cleric, I’m good at helping people, but I’m not very good at helping myself.”

Strelok brings up what she said about not having anywhere else to go, and says his family has a cabin; he awkwardly tells her she can always go there. Polena asks about his family, and he says they’re not around any more. Polena says hers left, too. Her parents told her and her brother that they were taking the harvest to the city, and they never came back. The next year, her brother left to find them, but after awhile Polena went after them all, since she was very low on food. There she met the clerics of Iomadae, who “saved her” and taught her so much. Strelok shares that his brother also left, but we recently discovered that he was alive. Polena says she is sure his brother is looking for him; Strelok is skeptical. He adds that he’s not sure he wants his brother to find him.

By the end of the shift, Polena had almost gotten the light spell down. Strelok tries to explain that he’s not a bad person for not wanting his brother back, and explains the details of the situation, and how his brother prioritized revenge over his family. He still cares about his brother, though.

Sheila has already arisen. She reflects that while Aeric can make good company, he does not respect her meditation at the beginning of the morning. He is rather noisy getting up. This particular morning, he asks her what she is doing “while you’re sitting there, looking all calm and stuff.” He wants to know why she meditates. Sheila notices he seems to be carrying himself differently this morning. More relaxed, fluid, not wearing all his armor. And then he starts being crude, saying that he thought Sheila needed time to “file away” interesting dreams. He saunters off.

Later, Sheila asks what’s up, since he seems different. Aeric asks, have you ever wanted to just… push someone’s buttons? No, Sheila says, not really. Aeric continues to be flippant and suggestive. Then he becomes impatient, asking when we should wake up everyone. Specifically, “want to wake people up with pointies”? Sheila says that he seems to have the excitement for it, so he can do it. Aeric cheerfully pulls out his rapier and starts kicking people. He begins with Hayden. Next, Strelok awakes with his face being pressed into the ground as he is prodded. Aeric takes the threat to his foot as a joke, and says we should all get up and “kill some stuff”.

He goes to the birds, who eye him in a confused manner. As the rest of us get up and get ready, he announces he will get breakfast, and hops onto his bird. “Good riddance”, Hayden says. The rest of the party is ready to depart with no sign of Aeric. Sheila and Hayden discuss the possibility that the forest drove him insane (Sheila in a logical manner, Hayden in a gleeful one). Hayden talks about how this is actually a godsend— “this could be a religious experience for me!” Sheila suggests Strelok start tracking him, with the rest of the party going on ahead. Strelok says Aeric should be able to find us, and we don’t want to split the party further. Since he went in almost the direction we are traveling, we set out, but plan to search for him if there is no sign by noon. Polena seems concerned.

About two and a half hours later, running sounds headed towards us are heard. We stop, preparing for a fight in case it is a foe. Strelok’s bird shifts and makes a trilling sound, which is soon answered at a higher pitch; Aeric’s bird. Aeric rides the bird into sight, carrying the dressed remains of a large scorpion. He gives the tail and intact venom glands to Zephyr. He enlists Strelok to help him get the meat off. Sadly, he didn’t bring back the claws, which have the best of the meat. Strelok gives a quick lesson on the best parts of a scorpion.

Aeric goes to talk with Sheila, and seems to abruptly be back to normal. He says it should be about a day and a half until we reach the village. He and Sheila advise an early morning when we cross the desert. He then asks to go over the maps with Zephyr, who agrees.

After a few more hours of travel, Polena catches up to Sheila. She asks if swords are evil (returning to the conversation about magic, which Strelok had compared to a sword). No; in helping people, they are not evil. The conclusion is that Iomadae would want people to use their gifts to help people. Polena thanks Sheila and runs off.

Around 4pm, Aeric pauses and suggests we stop for the day to rest the birds and mages in preparation of our day in the desert; we can cross here. (The village we are heading to is about a day and a half into the desert; our next destination is a city that is almost at the inner Forest, which would take four days to get to across the desert.) Sheila suggests Strelok climb a tree to try to see what is around them. Having trouble, Hayden bounds up the tree. Strelok drops to the ground, embarrassed. Polena is giggling, but trying to hide it. Sheila is not trying to hide her chuckling.

Hayden’s view is almost unblocked. The desert extends out to the west. The Forest seems like a living green wall. There is a mist of spores around it. There are a few dust devils elsewhere in the desert, and some things he can’t make out. Further, he sees the lines of a city. There are also large, lumbering forms here and there in the desert. Something suddenly seems to rise up above the forest, and disappears into the clouds. It is immense. Looking back towards the village, the large lumbering dots appear to be close to it. Hayden comes down and reports what he saw. Aeric adds that while getting breakfast, he did a bit of scouting, and saw the tracks of some large insect-like creature. It looked almost identical to the trail of a ladybeetle he’d seen in his youth. There seemed to be at least two such trails.

Preparing to camp, Aeric invites Hayden to spar. Sheila expresses interest in watching, and is asked to act as judge. Zephyr wants to watch as well; although she had long since stopped making notes of Hayden’s apparent psychology, aside from events not fitting with past behavior, she has a passing interest in Aeric’s personality change that day. She soon remembers that there are things to study that she finds far more interesting than people, and goes back to her book. Strelok comes over to Zephyr and asks if she noticed Aeric’s personality change. He wonders if it might be “Marcus” showing through. They both believe it is important to keep an eye on him. When asked about possession, Zephyr does not think it likely. Strelok then approaches Sheila to have the same conversation. They don’t think it was just a matter of him becoming comfortable with the group. Sheila reminds Strelok that Aeric has been a bit stressed about the forest and the trek in general.

Meanwhile, Aeric has cleared a large circle and made an outline with twigs and leaves and such. They fight with sticks rather than swords. Hayden confirms with him that there won’t be magic or anything other than the sticks. As they begin, Aeric tenses, and waits. Hayden circles. Zephyr reads. Phallic imagery ensues. A few blows are exchanged. Hayden pretends to stumble at one point, and Aeric falls for the trick, earning himself a direct hit to the solar plexus/zyphoid process region. He calls a timeout, winded. Hayden’s serious, almost solemn demeanor suddenly changes with a higher stance, somewhat bouncing steps, and a cheerful expression. Aeric also smiles, and rises. He quickly rushes, getting in two hits before bring the stick to Hayden’s throat. Aeric says he’s seen this stance change; it was a favorite of his teacher (who “appreciated the cocky ones”). He backs up as Hayden nods, yielding, and gets into a starting position once more. This time, Hayden uses his cloak to entangle, a successful manuever. A hit to the ulnar nerve numbs Aeric’s arm. Aeric is very amused by this, and flops the arm around. “Hey… hey, come here…” He lightly smacks Hayden with the numb arm. “Hehehe.” He thanks Hayden for the duel, complimenting his skill.

Sheila offers to help with Aeric’s arm, but he declines. Talk turns to what we might expect during the next day’s trek. Aeric says, well, it’s what we always dreamed of, isn’t it? He seems to drift into his own world for a moment. “it’s been a long time since we’ve met like that. I hope we’ll both be prepared.” He wanders off, as Hayden has a flash of childhood memory of play-dueling with rancher boys. Hayden asks Strelok if he’d like a go; he declines, although expresses the belief that, if he could hit Hayden, he (Strelok) would win; landing a hit would be uncertain. His magic seems an unfair advantage. Hayden replies by saying that magic can still miss.

Strelok requests Hayden show him how to disarm, or perhaps other techniques. He would like to deliver bounties without killing people. Hayden agrees, provided we don’t all die tomorrow.

[In character but not in-game: Hayden protests not having someone on watch who converses; Zephyr says he never tries, and that she would be an excellent conversationalist… if he talked about something interesting…. Hayden says he feels the same way about her.]

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Today's session was a bit corpsey.

Polena snuggles up to Strelok with a warning glare along the lines of “you’d better not let anything happen to me!!”

Aeric seems antsy. Sheila inquires, and he says that being out here for two days and being attacked twice… is it going to be like this the whole time? Sheila pointed out that he was told the stories, and he replies that he thought them exaggerated.

After awhile, Aeric asks Sheila, “did you hear that noise…?” She listens and detects a faint buzzing sound coming from the north (the direction we are traveling). She decides to wait to see if it gets closer, as it is very faint. Strelok notices it as well. It stays faint, not getting any louder or closer. Strelok decides to climb a tree and try to spot the source of the sound. He is unable to get high enough to see above the trees.

Around 8, Sheila starts sharpening her sword; the screeching sound wakes everyone up. Sigh.

Sheila and Strelok discuss the Night Callers, and the possibility of an attack. Polena interrupts to ask about the buzzing sound. She is reassured that it has not come any closer. However, as we begin to travel North, it becomes louder. After 15 minutes, the faint buzz has become a roaring hum. Sounds like the flight of thousands of insects. A scouting party? A hive? An attack force? Pallas informs Zephyr of a rotting scent as we travel; if it is a group of insects, perhaps they are feeding. Aeric suggests Strelok go scout it out. Hayden goes along.

Strelok and Hayden come across a large pit formed from the root wells of several fallen trees. At the base are thousands of flying bugs, ranging from tiny to baseball-sized fliers, and beetles up to the size of a basketball. They are devouring two humanoids — one adult sized, one quite a bit smaller. Appear to be benign insects feeding on carrion. Something is glinting amongst the bugs, but everything else is being eaten. Hayden carefully makes his way down — the pit is about 14 feet deep. He has to walk on top of the bugs (both crunchy and squishy. Yum,). He daintily (and queasily) makes his way the eight or so feet to the glinting object. It appears to be some sort of disc. The adult seems to have been holding it, so it is… juicy. He shakes the flesh free and sees it is a copper disk, strangely warm. He gets the fuck out of the pit.

Examining it once out of the pit: Copper, thin unadorned band around outside, line of engraving with a twisty symbol in the middle. Disk is about 5in diameter. They are reminded of the disk found in the Veil. Strelok can tell that it is magical. Hayden “tries to use it” (fiddling, trying to writing engraving, etc). Strelok tries to dissuade him from this course of action. Using Detect Magic, Strelok determines that there is conjuration magic within the disk, of moderate strength. Hayden becomes concerned that they will accidentally conjure more bugs.

The silver disk we got in the Veil has different writing and is far larger. They bring the new disk to Zephyr, who sighs, thinking about how long the book is taking her to figure out. Hayden warns that it is dangerous— decomposing bodies, eaten by bugs! Polena looks ill, but is curious about the disk. Taking it, she notes the “pretty flower” on it, and tries to shine it with her sleeve before handing it back. Meanwhile, Zephyr attempts to explain ecosystems and decomposers to Hayden, who will have none of it. Strelok offers to help Zephyr study the disk. Sheila considers going to view the bodies while Polena picks at a string on her sleeve. She asks Hayden to fix it; it was pulled loose when she rubbed the disk with her sleeve. Looking at the disk, there is a shallow square notch in the bottom of the disk. Strelok decides to look at the bodies and see if there are any items that might fit within the notch. We all go along. As Strelok tries to descend into the pit, he fumbles with the rope and falls on his back within the mass of bugs. Sheila follows him, while Zephyr stays at the top and examines the disk. Hayden also watches from the top. Strelok notes a squished basket-ball sized beetle he had fallen on, the innards of which are now plastered to his leg. Polena and Aeric hang back away from the edge of the pit.

Sheila and Strelok reach the bodies without vomiting. Hooray! As Strelok looks for items, Sheila tries to determine how the humanoids came to be in this situation. She notices that the bodies are positioned: the adult seems to have fallen with one arm raised out (the hand the disk was in). The other arm is pinned beneath the smaller body, as if it was being held. On the smaller body, a shirt bears the symbol of Pelor (sun god).

Strelok looks for bags or other possessions that they might have been carrying— did they have supplies? Or does it seem they were unprepared for travel? Were they from the caravan? He also tries to determine the cause of death.

Sheila notices that the symbol isn’t proper… the rays of the sun have been altered so that the sun has three rays. The altered symbol is unfamiliar, but Sheila knows of pagan-type religions that commonly use sun imagery.

Strelok finds a pouch on the adult. It has a knife, trail rations, and a small gold and ruby ring (no magic detected). The amount of trail rations looked to be enough for the adult and child for two days. No broken bones. Turning the bodies over so that they are face up, he finds that the eyes have been gouged out, and several teeth are missing or fragmented, as if something was smashed into it. The tongue and soft palate are missing. On the man’s outstretched hand, Strelok notices an odd bone structure: the base knuckle of the middle finger is lumpy. Splitting the skin with the knife, Strelok finds metal; he retrieves a sliver of gold, about 3 inches, with a small flat-cut diamond in the center. It looks like it may fit in the notch of the disk.

Sharing information, Strelok notes that there are no broken bones, which is surprising if they fell into the pit. He looks around the edges of the pit, and sees burrows that might be used as foot- and hand-holds. Sheila suspects that the people are native; perhaps they lived here. Strelok shows the group the gold sliver.

Meanwhile, Zephyr has determined that the writing on the disk is Sylvan; knowing that language, she reads: “plants share, plants save, friend of plants ’til end of days.” Given that the sliver of gold was buried under the adult’s skin for a long time, Strelok suspects he was protecting the disk. He studies it further: bringing the sliver of gold close to the disk, it grows hot. Strelok sense feelings from the disk: perhaps it is something to be used as protection, or something used to guide, or perhaps to harm.

Strelok wants to study it further, but Hayden, convinced it is about plants rather than bugs, wants to try it out. Sheila points out that there are very dangerous plants; Zephyr is annoyed because she was just telling Hayden about such things yesterday, but he paid no attention. Hayden is fiddling with the sliver, and when it gets close to the middle finger (where it was in the man), his hands lock up and grow hot. His finger splits open, and absorbs the sliver before sealing. It feels hot, and he feels a magnetic-like pull between his finger and the disk. Hayden protests this new development, and Sheila sighs. “You have to fiddle with everything, don’t you?” Strelok agrees to Hayden’s early plan to test it out, handing him the disk while the rest of the party goes and hides behind the trees. Hayden is feeling indignant and defensive (“I didn’t even do anything wrong this time!”). He aligns the sliver in his finger with the notch on the disk: thorn-covered vines erupt and engulf him, but the thorns do not break his skin… and they move with him. He moves experimentally. He has a suit of thorny vine armor. “Now I know what Pallas feels like! …..How do I turn it off?” He takes the disk into the other hand, and the vines retract into the disk with a metallic ringing noise. Strelok offers to take the new suit off Hayden’s hands if he doesn’t want it. Hayden expresses the feeling of being violated by Mother Nature.

Strelok asks Zephyr for the silver disk, which she has been carrying, and they use mage hand to get it to him (so that there is no blinding) He examines it for a similar notch. He finds none, but the structure of the disks is definitely similar. Strelok takes out his map and makes a mark at our location, then tries to remember the location of the other in the veil, and makes a mark there.

The war birds have gorged on bugs, and are quite pleased. We continue our travels. The rest of the day is uneventful, but we are all tense. Polena is QUIET. OMG.

As night approaches, Aeric mentions not seeing any good places to camp in the last few hours, and suggests we scout for one. Strelok offers to go, and Aeric accompanies him. He wants to make sure they find a defensible location. He is getting along much better with his bird. The two ride ahead of the party, and soon find the remains of a village. It is not marked on the map, and may in fact have only been a single farm; the buildings are overgrown, so it is hard to tell. Construction looks like it was within the last 100 years. The overgrown plants are all shrubs, not tall trees, indicating that there was cleared land here. There are pear trees and a cherry tree, plus a vegetable garden. Aeric rides back to the group while Strelok investigates and collects food. He confirms that the building is abandoned.

Meanwhile, Hayden asks about the pagan symbols. “Does this mean I’m part of some weird religion?” A conversation ensues, and Aeric’s arrival is a startling interruption; Hayden feels an strong urge to grab the disk with the hand in which the sliver is embedded. Aeric leads the party to the farm, and they arrive as Strelok is cooking a stew. Hayden is very pleased that there is a roof under which to sleep that night (and four walls surrounding, no less!) Polena is even more excited by this prospect. “Do we… do we… get to be… not outside?!”

The barn (the only building with a surviving root) is filled with hay. It is dry, although it does have a number of rodent and flea inhabitants. The door even locks. The birds are let in to eat the rodents; they are at first reluctant, as the ceiling is low, but they are happy about the prospect of food… however, they hit their heads every time they rear their heads back to swallow prey. As the stew cooks just outside, they become more interested in the pot. Strelok slowly shuts the door, and they coo sadly, but go back to hunting rodents.

Hayden is wary about the fact that this used to be a farm, but was abandoned. It is pointed out that this was built in the last 100 years; the wall went up 20 years ago. They may have left then, or before when insects became a threat.

The birds are given the left over stew, because we like them and are done eating. Hayden and Zephyr takes the first watch; Hayden climbs up on the roof of the barn, which, luckily, supports his weight. With Pallas assisting in keeping watch, Zephyr has time to study the book. Hayden explores the emotions which have triggered the urge to activate the disk (mainly defensiveness, insecurity for when he was startled; apprehension the first time it was activated.). Focussing on those feelings, he is aware of the pull between the sliver and disk; however, unlike when he was caught in the emotions, he doesn’t feel a strong need to activate it.

The second watch is Polena and Strelok, The birds suddenly begin to stir within the barn, and Strelok goes on alert. He sees a large, shadowy figure slink into the clearing. It is mammalian and predatory. It avoids the light of the outdoor fire, but sniffs at the windows of the barn on the dark side. Strelok watches from the roof of the barn, with Polena beside him. He notes that the creature moves in an odd way; too smoothly, it seems. It darts back into the underbrush, and the birds begin to settle; however, it soon comes back with a slightly-larger companion. Strelok sees a glimpse of bright gold fur. They appear to have eight legs. Strelok notices that they move similarly to the badgers back home. Suddenly one tackles the other, and they tumble into the underbrush. The birds shift and wiffle uncomfortably. Strelok summons a ball of light, and there is silence for a moment…. and then the creatures pounce on the ball and play with it. They are aurumvoraxes. Polena giggles as watches them play. Strelok wants to follow them back to their nest. Polena objects to being left alone, so he goes to wake Aeric. Strelok wants to go to the nest to find precious metal hoards. Aeric grudgingly agrees to take watch for half of what Strelok snags.

Strelok follows them to a nearby river, where another similarly sized aurumvorax waits with a larger one, presumably an adult whereas the others are adolescents (albeit unusually large ones). Strelok leaves a trail of coins, returns to the river, and uses another light spell to attract them; the three smaller ones try to chase, but the larger barks, stopping the others in their tracks. They all return, and when morning comes, they retreat into a cave. Strelok waits until dawn, then uses stealth and invisibility to crawl into the hole after them. Suddenly he rounds a corner and finds them. One of the young ones looks in his direction and sniffs, but is distracted by a playful sibling. He sneaks by the sleepy kits.

After traveling about an hour, using a dimmed light spell, Strelok sees faint glimmers ahead. The walls seem to be glittering with quartz and and pyrite, even coins… in the walls and ceilings. The deeper he travels, the shinier it gets. Soon he finds piles of uncut gems. There are more and more coins, and finally he reaches a room blocked by discarded metalwork. There are a few buried magical items that he can detect. Digging with the flat of his axe, Strelok finds a few handfuls of gems and jewelry, 3 platinum, 45 gold, and some magic items: 3 magic rings, a crown/circlet, a left glove, 2 amulets. Strelok leaves, passing by a puddle of snoozing aurumvorax cuteness. Returning to camp, Strelok splits his find with Aeric.

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Stuff happened but we're watching DBZa now so I can't be distracted by titles right now.

Polena and Aeric are not too pleased about a creature slipping past Strelok and Sheila’s notice, but it is agreed that this would have been difficult to spot.

Hayden asks Sheila about her time on the wall. Sheila says her first year was routine. She was stationed in an area much less prone to attack, where the forest and wasteland are further from the wall. Zephyr knows from study that there was less spread of forest in that area due to a lack of nutrients in the soil. Sheila relates one battle which she missed, being in a hunting party. Other members of the garrison were heading off some of the bugs spotted from the wall’s watchtowers. They were charging the wall. A number of good men were lost, and the survivors don’t talk about it much; many suffering rather obviously from PTSD.

Hayden asks Strelok what dangerous creatures he’s faced… specifically, “biggest, most fearsome”. Zephyr points out that those are separate categories, as the most fearsome was surely the plague worms, while the largest were the Charybdis. Hayden says he was just asking for stories, since he’s bored. Zephyr launches into a lecture regarding the mating habits of leviathan and why they are a keystone species.

We reach the forest (safe type, not across the wastelands; we left a path of travel going through an area full of dead trees and fallen logs). We continue to travel north. Going into the forest enough to find an easy path (no fallen trees and dead underbrush), we lose sight of the *F*orest; however, we can occasionally climb trees to get our bearings.

Side note: sometimes Aeric will lapse into a more Marcus-style of speech.

Information on the forest we are currently traveling in: Zephyr warns of oozes and puddings which often occupy this type of forest. There are likely varieties of predator birds, and dangerous plants (Hayden: “Dangerous plants? What’s it going to do, photosynthesize?”) Sheila tells of experiences with giant dragonflies and fleas, swarms of things, etc. (Hayden: “So basically, if we hear a buzzing sound, something is going to come kill us and lay eggs on our chest”. He casts ghost sound to make a buzzing sound behind Polena. She screams and runs away… luckily, in the right direction.)

Suddenly Polena falls silent. We rush after her and discover she has fallen into the well of a tree, and is covered in nasty spiderwebs. Polena is screaming and flailing, and Strelok dismounts to jump in after her. Zephyr looks in interest, but sighs as she realizes they are only common garden spiders. Strelok tosses her out of the hole, and Zephyr reassures her that the spiders are completely harmless. Then she begins excitedly describing some not-so-harmless species we might find in the other *F*orest. She is shooed away and Strelok calms Polena down for a second time.

That evening, we come across a clearing as the sun begins to set. It is a little too perfect, and several party members are suspicious. We find signs that the clearing has recently been used as a campsite (Strelok estimates between 6 days and 2 weeks). Additional searching turns up two footprints, not belonging to the same individual. Humanoid, one adult sized with some sort of covering, the other smaller and barefoot. Possibly rangers? Polena suggests they are perhaps refugees.

Strelok makes a fire. Aeric pointedly offers to take the last shift, and asks if EITHER Strelok OR Sheila would like to join. Strelok and Polena take first watch, Zephyr and Hayden take the second. There are many strange noises in the night. Zephyr IDs some of the whooping sounds as giant bats, and their outlines are occasionally seen against the night sky. There are also many insect noises. The bats shouldn’t be a threat, and they are going after the bugs, so we leave them be.

As their watch begins, Strelok tries to awkwardly start a conversation with Polena. He lets her know that Hayden was just playing around, and she was in no real danger. She has figured this out, but was too embarrassed to admit it. He offers to teach her prestidigitation, and she accepts. He begins by showing her a few 0-level spells and helps her learn them. They wake Hayden and Zephyr. Pallas wanders off in search of insects of the regular-sized variety to munch on.

As Aeric and Sheila are being awoken, Zephyr notices that all the sounds from insects and bats are gone. She points it out to the other three awake party members; Hayden expresses appreciation for the silence. Zephyr ignores him and wakes up Strelok, who shakes Polena’s shoulder and heads to the edge of the clearing. Seeing nothing, he goes a short way into the woods. He hears a faint cry, which sounds like a voice: “Hello? Can you help me?” Strelok returns to camp to get Hayden, and Zephyr has Pallas accompany them as they stealthily attempt to find the voice.

At first they find nothing, and Hayden asks Strelok if he is fucking around; as Strelok is pointing out that he has never done that at any point during their travels together, the voice is heard again. Pallas begins hissing from his spot on Strelok’s shoulder. Strelok pats him and says, yes, I know its a trap. Pallas dances around. Strelok points in one direction; Pallas quiets. Strelok rotates slowly; Pallas stays silent. after completing a circle, Pallas hisses again and climbs up the side of Strelok’s head… they look up and see hundreds of dark bird shapes. “Hello?”

“Hello,” Hayden responds, to which Strelok gestures angrily in a “don’t DO that” sort of way. A few of the birds near Hayden startle, and suddenly they hear “Hello? Hello? Can you help me?” coming from all around. Some circle above, others land on nearer branches. A bird turns its head, revealing a large gaping hole where its eye should be. “Hello? Can you help me?” Strelok and Hayden run the fuck away. The birds follow to roost in the trees around the clearing. Zephyr recognizes them as Night Callers: a little on the shy side, but will “fuck your shit up”. They can imitate humans they hear; it seems they recently heard a child asking for help. They will attack anything they believe they can kill, but strongly favor humanoids. After hearing that they mimic humans, Hayden starts singing a raunchy tavern song. No response.

There are at least thirty, perhaps as many as forty five. They are nocturnal creatures who live in forests, so probably would not extend into the desert to follow us. Zephyr suspects there are too many people here for them to feel safe to attack. The axe beaks are very agitated, clearly angry. The Night Callers seem to be an apex predator, so making a sound of a common predator isn’t a viable strategy.

Strelok is highly in favor of attacking and taking out at least some of them in order to discourage them from following us, perhaps collected more. Hayden requests from Zephyr a bottle of flammable oil or alcohol. Watching him attempt to make a Molotov, she asks if he wouldn’t prefer a bottle of alchemist’s fire. He does indeed prefer that, and chucks it at the birds while using ghost sound to make a roaring noise. The birds in the targeted tree are killed, and the tree catches fire… which starts spreading. Zephyr sighs and casts Storm of Ice. Thanks to the roar, most of the birds are flying away.

It is light out, but most of the party didn’t get as much sleep as they needed; Zephyr predicts at least an hour before the creatures who fled the Night Callers return, and Sheila and Aeric take the watch.

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